The Materiality of the Sky


Proceedings of the 22nd Annual SEAC Conference 2014, Malta
SEAC Conferences

Editors: Fabio Silva, Kim Malville, Tore Lomsdalen and Frank Ventura

Series: Studies in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, Vol. 8

Publisher: Sophia Centre Press 2016

Price: £35.00 Paperback, 362 pp.

ISBN 978-1-907767-09-8




From the earliest times, human beings have been driven by the basic needs to procure food and water, shelter and defence, and communication with other members of the group. The skyscape was different from these, as it was beyond the reach of people and could not be manipulated. Yet, the innate imagination of human beings could not be unmoved by the sun and the moon, which dominate the day and night and apparently move in a well-ordered fashion, and the stars, which provide a splendid canopy on clear dark nights. Although celestial objects could not be handled and exploited in a tangible manner, people’s creativity sought to understand them, to find some use for them in relation to one’s needs and activities and to generate ideas about their nature and their meaning for humanity.


In addition, concepts, patterns, myths and other creations of this intangible culture could be transformed into material culture, including iconography, calendars, structural orientations and other human creations. These manifestations constitute the materiality of the sky and bear witness to human beings’ interest in the sky. The chapters in this volume illustrate the variety of research activity generated in this field of study across a broad spectrum of ages, cultures, and geographical regions.

Fabio Silva is a Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Instititut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i 
Evolució Social (Spain) and a tutor at the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture, University of Wales Trinity Saint David (United Kingdom), where he is responsible for a postgraduate module titled ‘Skyscapes, Cosmology and Archaeology’. His research interests centre on how humans perceive their environment (skyscape and landscape) and use that knowledge to time and adjust their social, productive and religious behaviours. His skyscape research has mostly focused on Neolithic Portugal, though he has also done fieldwork in the United Kingdom and Malta. His books include Skyscapes: The Role and Importance of the Sky in Archaeology (edited with Nicholas Campion, Oxbow Books, 2015). He has a PhD in Astrophysics (2010) and an MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology (2012).


J. McKim (Kim) Malville. During the International Geophysical Year Kim spent a year in the Antarctic where he studied the aurora australis. He obtained his BS in physics from Caltech and his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Colorado. Kim is presently Professor Emeritus in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado and Tutor at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. His primary research areas are solar physics and archaeoastronomy. In 1997 he was a member of the team that revealed the world’s oldest known megalithic astronomy at Nabta Playa near Abu Simbel in southern Egypt. In 2003 he was involved in the rediscovery of the Inca ceremonial centre of Llactapata, previously lost in a cloud forest above Machu Picchu. In 2014 he received the Carlos Jaschek award of SEAC. Books he has authored or edited include A Feather for Daedalus, Prehistoric Astronomy of the Southwest, Canyon Spirits: Beauty and Power in the Ancestral Puebloan World (with John Ninnemann and Steve Lekson), Ancient Cities, Sacred Skies: Cosmic Geometries and City Planning in Ancient India, Pilgrimage: Sacred Landscapes and Self-Organized Complexity, Chimney Rock: the Ultimate Outlier, and Machu Picchu’s Sacred Sisters: Choquequirao and Llactapata (with Gary Ziegler).


Tore Lomsdalen has a Masters Degree in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK. He is currently affiliated with the Department of Classics and Archaeology at the University of Malta, where he undertaking a PhD on the research topic Cosmology in Prehistoric Malta. He is a member of the European Society for Cultural Astronomy (SEAC) and the Italian Society for Archaeoastronomy (SIA); in addition, he was the secretary of the Local Organisation Committee of the SEAC 2014 Conference at the University of Malta Valletta Campus and is a member of the editing committee of the SEAC 2014 proceedings publication. His first book, Sky and Purpose in Prehistoric Malta was published with Sophia Centre Press in 2014.


Frank Ventura was the first head of the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technical Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta. He is currently the chairman of the MATSEC Examinations Board of the University of Malta which is responsible for national examinations at the end of compulsory education and pre-university levels. His interest in archaeoastronomy goes back to the late 1970s and since then Ventura has published several papers and articles on the archaeoastronomy of the Neolithic temples of the Maltese Islands and the Punic tombs in Malta which have appeared in local and international publications. He was also deeply involved in the organisation of the INSAP 2 and SEAC 2014 conferences, both of which were held in Malta. He has also contributed to publications on science education, environmental education, educational assessment and areas relating to astronomy and archaeology.

Introduction: The Materiality of the Sky
Frank Ventura


Maltese Archaeoastronomy


Reading Messages from the Past: Interpreting Symbols Possible Archaeoastronmical Significance in Malta
Frank Ventura


The ‘Oracle Holes’ of the Maltese Prehistoric Temples: An Investigation of their Astronomical/Solar Alignments
Tore Lomsdalen


Inclusion and Exclusion of Sunlight and Moonlight From Temples of the Ġgantija and Tarxien Phases
John Cox


Cosmology and Cosmovision


Cosmovisions Put Upon a Disk: Another View of the Nebra Disk
Michael A. Rappenglück


Astronomy and Landscape in Carthago Nova
Juan Antonio Belmonte, José Miguel Noguera Celdrán, A. César González-García & Andrea Rodríguez-Antón


A Status Report: A Review of Research on the Origins and Diffusion of the Belief in a Sky Bear
Roslyn M. Frank


In Search of Päivätär, the Finnish Solar Goddess
Marianna Ridderstad


The Nordic Calendar and the Great Midwinter Sacrifice at Old Uppsala
Göran Henriksson


Fire from the Heavens: The Idea of Cosmic Fire across Archaic Cultures 
Michael A. Rappenglück


Astronomical Orientations


On the Orientation of the Historic Churches of Lanzarote: When Human Necessity Dominates over Canonical Prescriptions
Alejandro Gangui, A. César González García, Mª Antonia Perera Betancort & Juan Antonio Belmonte


Orientation of Roman Camps and Forts in Britannia: Reconsidering Alan Richardson’s Work
Andrea Rodríguez-Antón, Antonio César González-García &
Juan Antonio Belmonte


Evidence for the Existence of Solar and Lunar Alignments in Western Scotland: The Contrasting Nature of Backsights, Foresights and Alignments
Thomas Gough


Architecture, Illumination and Cosmology: the Arles-Fontvieille Monuments, Archaeoastronomy and Megalithic Studies
Morgan Saletta


An Ethnoastronomy Study on the Astronomical Orientation and Astral Decoration of the Stone Granaries (Hórreos) of Vilaboa (Galicia, Spain
Fátima Braña Rey & Ana Ulla Miguel


Connections: The Relationships between Neolithic and Bronze Age Megalithic Astronomy in Britain
Gail Higginbottom & Roger Clay


Winter Solstice at the Iberian Cave-Sanctuary of La Nariz
César Esteban & José Ángel Ocharan Ibarra


Raising Awareness of Light Pollution by Simulation of Nocturnal Light of Astronomical Cultural Heritage Sites
Georg Zotti & Günther Wuchterl


New Findings at the ‘Petre De La Mola’ Megaliths
L. Lozito, F. Maurici, V. F. Polcaro, and A. Scuderi


Astronomy and Culture in Historical Times


Sirius (al-῾Abūr) Proper Motion as Recorded in the Arabic Star Mythology
Flora Vafea

The Stones of Penas de Rodas: Can the ‘Spell of Archaeo-astronomy’ Create a Contemporary Sacred Place?
Benito Vilas Estevez


The Sphere in Antiquity
Mª Pilar Burillo-Cuadrado


North and South America


Houses of the Sun and the Collapse of Chacoan Culture
J. McKim Malville & Andrew Munro


Astronomy and the Ceque System of Cusco
Steven R. Gullberg


The Temple of the Inscriptions in the Spiritual Landscape at Palenque
Stanisław Iwaniszewski


Egypt, the Mediterranean and Asia


A Comparative Study of Megalithic Monuments in Sardinia and Beyond
A. César González-García, Mauro P. Zedda & Juan A. Belmonte


Archaeoastronomy In Sicily: Megaliths And Rocky Sites
Andrea Orlando


The Tall Gnomon Of Guo Shoujing: An Astro-Archaeological Analysis
Vance Tiede